Geopolitical data – Money questions – Phones – Climate – Getting Around – Culture – Do’s and Don’ts
Thailand (Prathet Thai, meaning “land of the free”)
Bangkok (Krung Thep, meaning “city of angels”)
513,115 sq. km.
The kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a gateway to it’s neighboring countries Myanmar (Burma) in the West and North. Laos in the North and Northeast. Cambodia in the Southeast and Malaysia to the South. The country comprises 76 provinces that are further divided into districts, sub districts and villages. It is divided into four natural regions: Mountains and forests of the North, Rice fields of the Central Plains, Farm lands of the Northeast plateau, and Tropical islands of the South Peninsula.
A large majority of the over 62 million citizens of Thailand are ethic Thai, along with a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian. There are currently about 7 million people residing in the capital city of Bangkok. On the island of Phuket there is approximately 275 thousand residents. Khao Lak has 2000 fulltime residents, and 10,000 seasonal residents.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy led by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Royal Family has earned the love and respect of the entire nation and is held in the highest esteem. Visitors to the country are expected to treat the Royal Family with respect. Politics is a topic of much discussion amongst Thais and can be quite heated. It is wisest to not express much opinion on these matters
Nearly all Thais (85%) are Buddhists. A small percentage (4-6%) are Muslim and some are Christians, Hindus or Confucianists. Tolerance towards religion is symbolized by the fact that the King is the Protector of All Faiths. In the South, and especially along the coastline – the Muslim faith is far more popular than in the rest of Thailand.
Thai is the official language but nearly all Thais working in the tourism industry speak English. Make sure you speak slowly and clearly without too many colloquialisms and people will understand you just fine (“ahoy matey” just doesn’t work). Thais believe that the least we can do for our fellow man is to smile and be polite. If you maintain the same attitude during your stay in Thailand, you’ll have a wonderful time.
Local time is 7 hours ahead of UTC (GMT) throughout the country all year round. Or 11-13 hours ahead of the United States. Thailand has no daylight savings period.
In Thailand 220Volt 50Hz is the standard. Using a mix of older 2 pin style plugs and American style plugs it can be confusing. Adapters are harder to find outside of the major metropolitan areas.
Weights & Measures:
The metric system is used throughout Thailand.
Thailand’s mail service is reliable and efficient. Provincial post offices are usually open from 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
The local currency is the Thai Baht. For up-to-date exchange rates click here for Currency Converter. Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept all major credit cards, US$ and Euros.
The Thai unit of currency is the baht. 1 baht is divided into 100 satang. Notes are in denominations of 1,000, 500, 100, 50 , 20 and 10 baht. Coins consist of 25 satang, 50 satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht. Major currency bills and travelers cheques are cashed easily at hotels, foreign exchangers, all provincial banks, and shopping centers. The best rate of exchange can be found at banks (you will need your passport). Hotels, restaurants, and most shops except major credit cards.
ATM machines / cash points can now be found everywhere.
Credit cards are widely accepted. For lost cards please call the following corresponding numbers.
American Express Tel: 0 2273 5100 or 0 2273 0022
Diners Club Tel: 0 2238 2920 or 0 2238 2680
Master Card Tel: 0 2256 7326-7
Visa Tel: 0 2256 7326-7
Banks are usually open from 08:30 – 15:30 Monday to Friday. There are frequent exceptions – especially in areas frequented by tourists.
Tipping is not a usual practice in Thailand although it is becoming more common. Most hotels and restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. Taxi drivers do not require a tip, but the gesture is appreciated and 10-20 baht is acceptable for porters.
Fixed prices are the norm in department stores, but at most other places bargaining is to be expected. Generally, you can obtain a final figure of between 10-40% lower than the original asking price. Much depends on your skills and the shopkeeper’s mood. But remember, Thai’s appreciate good manners and a sense of humor. With patience and a broad smile, you will not only get a better price, you will also enjoy shopping as an art.
Khao Lak is neither a center of arts or crafts. Almost all products you find in the shops are not handicrafts. The prices are 100-300% higher than you will pay in places such as Chatuchuk market.
Using your Mobile Phone:
A Subscriber Identity Module Card (SIM Card) is now available for Thai and foreign customers who are traveling. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of 500 THB which includes some free calls! The SIM Card must be used in conjunction with a Digital GSM mobile phone within the 900-MHz range or a Digital PCN mobile phone within the 1800-MHz range.
Internet / Email:
Internet Cafes are available everywhere, some now have a ADSL link. Expect to pay 1 / 2 THB per minute.
All of Thailand’s leading hotels offer facsimile (fax) and e-mail services. Numerous private businesses offer such facilities, most often in conjunction with translation services.
The international dialing code for Thailand is 66.
When making international calls from Thailand, first dial 001+country code+area code+telephone number.
This can be done from your resort or hotel, some internet cafes also offer this service a little cheaper. The most cost effective way is to buy an international telephone card and use a public payphone or GSM mobile.
Emergency Telephone Numbers:
Central Emergency (Police, Ambulance, Fire): 191
Tourist Police (English, French and German spoken): 1155
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Call Centre : 1672
Immigration Bureau: 022 87 3101-10
Thailand’s tropical climate is influenced by the southwest and northeast monsoons. Located only 10 degrees above the equator with the Indian Ocean on the west side and the South China Sea/Pacific to the East – it is moist and humid.
In Khao Lak/Similans, there are two real weather systems. Hot and muggy. And hot and rainy. Rain should be expected almost everyday of the year. While November to April the conditions are very good – we still expect and afternoon thunderstorm. This is not an inconvenience so much as cheap air-conditioning! Between May and October heavy rains can occur any day. With several Meters of rain a year – this is a very wet climate.
AIR & WATER TEMPERATURES
Air temperature: 25C – 35C, always warm, can be very hot and humid, nights often cooler.
Water temperature in the Andaman Sea averages around 27C to 29C. Very pleasant although, sometimes thermoclines do occur. The type of wetsuit you need depends on how easily you feel the cold and how many dives per you make day. A thin “shortie” or skin may be enough for a daytrip but on a live aboard cruise you are better off with a 3-5mm full wetsuit.
Public Transport and Car Rental
Metered taxis are available 24 hours in Bangkok. The metered fare is standardized, with the flag down rate being 35 Baht for the first 2 km and around 5 Baht for each km thereafter. Passengers must pay tolls if using the expressways. Outside of Bangkok that is not the case – bargain your prices.
In Khao Lak the local Taxi “cooperative” is fiercely protective of their monopoly. Expect to pay 2-300 Baht for a 3 km drive in a pick truck taxi. There are no Tuk-Tuk’s or metered Taxis. Negotiate your fee before entering. If you ask your resort to arrange a taxi for you – expect to pay 50% more but free from arguments.
If you want to experience driving in Thailand, there are many car rental firms at Phuket Airport, including international rental companies such as Hertz, Budget and Avis. The road system is good and well posted with some signs written in English. The driving is English style – on the left side of the road. Drive VERY defensively and be patient.
Thailand is often called the “land of smiles”, and rightly so because you will see more smiling people here than anywhere else in the world.
Approximately 75% of the citizenry are ethnic Thais, 14% are Chinese, and the remaining 11% are mostly Indian, Malay, Karen, Khmer, or Mon. The literacy rate is high at about 94% and the average life expectancy is 66 for men and 72 for women.
In the Khao Lak area, there are large populations of migrant Burmese laborers (see our activities) as well as a large population of Moken. The Moken, also called the “Morgan” are the true natives of the region. Also called Sea-Gypsies, they have called the coastlines of the region homes for thousands of years. Linguistically their language is closer to Malay and they are genetically closer to the Southern Indian people than Thais. Both groups are oppressed and suffer from a range of prejudices.
In all the tourist resort areas – shorts and T-shirts are acceptable attire. This is also appropriate at night, although “smart-casual” is preferred in the better eating places. Jackets and ties are not required anywhere. Ladies are expected to dress appropriately when visiting temples.
On the beaches Thais give Westerners a great deal of lee-way. But take a moment and look at the Thai beachwear. Long pants, long-sleeve shirts and hats. Please understand that Thais are very patient with foreigners, but are themselves very conservative.
Thai people are friendly and tolerant but there are a few Do’s and Don’ts which you should observe. Avoid touching people on the head, and keep your feet on the ground where they belong. Stay calm, smile and enjoy the hospitality of your hosts.
Whilst Thai people are among the most tolerant and forbearing of hosts, they have nevertheless a number of customs and taboos which the visitor should respect.
* Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon. You may see Westernized young Thai’s holding hands in public, but that is as far as it goes, in polite society.
* Topless bathing may be considered acceptable in your own country, but is inappropriate in Thailand.
* Thai’s consider the head as the highest part of the body, both literally and figuratively. As a result they don’t approve of touching anyone on the head, even as a friendly gesture.
* It is considered rude to point the sole of your foot at another person, so try to avoid doing so when sitting opposite someone, and following the concept that the foot is the lowest limb, don’t point your foot to show anything to anyone.
* Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman wants to give anything to a monk or novice, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. In case the woman wants to present it with her hand, the monk or novice will spread out a piece of saffron robe, and the woman will lay down the gift on the material.
* It is alright to wear shoes whilst walking around the grounds of a Buddhist temple, but not inside the chapel where the Buddha image is kept. Women should ensure that their legs and shoulders are covered before entering a Buddhist temple. Please do not wear shorts.
* The Thai people have a deep traditional reverence for the Royal Family, and the visitor should also show respect for the King and the Queen, and the Royal Children. When attending a public event where a member of the Royal Family is present, the best guide on how to behave is to watch the crowd and do as it does.
The Wai is the traditional Thai greeting which is used instead of a handshake, but it can also be used as a means of saying sorry, thank you, or to pay respect. A Thai person will often Wai as he approaches a temple, Buddha image, or other item of religious significance.
If you are introduced to a Thai and that person Wais to you then you should return the Wai. Generally the younger person will Wai first, but the Wai of a small child is best return by a big smile. If you receive a thank you Wai from an airline stewardess or after tipping a waitress it is inappropriate to return the Wai, but a smile is always welcome.